Romance and Chastity as Historical Artifacts: Kesa and Moritô in the Tale of the Heike
The love triangle of Kesa, Morito, and Wataru has fascinated Japanese minds ever since it appeared in several editions of a historical novel The Tale of the Heike (14th century). During the following six centuries, the episode has been turned into short stories, puppet plays, kabuki, a suspense novel, and even an ethnographic narrative. And each revision takes on the socioeconomic color of its publication time. Among over two-dozen revisions, this paper focuses on a dozen to demonstrate how the revisions treat women in compliance with the social climate of the time. This paper first claims that the original story was fabricated so as to give momentum to historical figure Morito’s later superhuman achievements. Subsequent revisions play with the episode with as much cavalier freedom as to suit their purposes. Typically, each version has the major characters espouse the cultural values of the time of rewriting. Kesa becomes a monumental “chase woman” during the medieval period, for instance, and she gains a greater personality of her own in the puppet and kabuki plays. By the late 20th century, an historian as a character in a short story deconstructs the main ingredients of various versions.
Keywords: Kesa and Morito episode, The Tale of the Heike, Transformation through History, From the 14th Century through 1991
Prof. Tamae K. Prindle
Oak Professor of East Asian Language and Literature, East Asian Studies Department, Colby College